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'People are really struggling': Indigenous artists need financial and cultural support, survey says

When Jacquelyn and Hunter Cardinal’s business took a hit from precautions being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19, they decided to look at how it was affecting their clients.
Siblings Jacquelyn and Hunter Cardinal own Naheyawin, an Indigenous consulting firm based in Edmonton. They work with venues, artists and other organizations — many of which have taken a huge hit financially due to cancelled gigs. (Ryan Parker Photography)

When Jacquelyn and Hunter Cardinal's business took a hit from precautions being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19, they decided to look at how it was affecting their clients.

The siblings, from Sucker Creek Cree First Nation, own Naheyawin, an Indigenous consulting firm based in Edmonton. They work with venues, artists and other organizations — many of which have taken a huge hit financially due to cancelled gigs.

They quickly realized a need to quantify the losses that Indigenous artists were facing — so they created a survey and roundtable discussion to gather that data.

"We're asking a wide variety of questions to really get the sense of what is the impact that COVID-19 has had on these Indigenous artists to date, and because of that, what supports do they need?" Hunter Cardinal said.

The results, they said, aren't great news.

"I think people are really struggling," Jacquelyn Cardinal said. "Indigenous artists, it's not like we were in a fantastically secure place prior to this outbreak — many artists were already in a quite tenuous position.

"We had people report losses of up to and exceeding $10,000 to date, but beyond that, people expect to lose more."

The losses can be financially devastating, but they've also heard from artists that it's a loss culturally, too.

"The connection to home communities, to elders, to knowledge-keepers and to other Indigenous artists and cultural practitioners has been deeply impacted — and, in some cases, severed," Hunter Cardinal said. 

It's clear from respondents that immediate and future financial support is needed for many of the artists — and with many of them having multiple dependents, it isn't just about them.

"If you help one Indigenous artist, you're not just helping that one Indigenous artist. You're also helping lift up, often, basically a community," Jacquelyn Cardinal said.

But hidden in all the impacts is still a message of hope. One that many artists are sharing with others to let each other know they are all in this together.

"[There are] messages of hope, of history, of, 'We will get through this and we have gone through this before,'" Hunter Cardinal said. 

The survey and roundtable, which reached more than 100 people as of Tuesday, has generated interest from all levels of government, eager to find some quantifiable way to measure the effects on this specific part of the Indigenous community.

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